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At home in Brighton’s art hotel

I’m walking along Brighton’s seemingly endless seafront and the weather is apocalyptic. The wind is throwing me one way then the other as colossal grey waves crash and smash onto the beach. Head down, I’m battling the elements on my way to Regency Square.

A pocket of grand properties, the Square is a direct link back to Brighton’s 19th century redevelopment from a fishing town into a hub of social frivolity. The buildings are stately and elegant from the outside. Inside one hotel, however, tradition is cast aside to create an artistic utopia.

Run by Justin Salisbury and Charlie Newey, a young twenty-something couple, Artist Residence calls itself an art hotel, and those two words imply everything the place and its staff invest their energy in.

The hotel supports artists by offering them a rent-free sanctuary for a month or two, allowing them to live in a relaxed environment to develop and hone their talents. The artist who stays there has access to the property’s studio as well as being able to sell any of their art in the pop-up shop in the reception area. The artist’s time here culminates in them putting on an exhibition which is open for the public to view.

A unique perk for many of the artists who have resided here has been to design and decorate the rooms. They are given free reign over how to design the space but there is one important requirement: put your own mark on it.

Justin and Charlie aren’t in town today but I am greeted by Anna Kopacz, operations manager, and Stephanie Coffey, a photographer who was the artist in residence during June and July but is now employed at the hotel. Working diligently behind us is Suki Price, a former artist in residence, preparing for her exhibition opening tomorrow. I’m unsure whether she has even registered our presence before noticing that she has a set of headphones on. I daren’t distract her.

Stephanie leads the way up the first flight of stairs to guide me around a handful of the dozen rooms the hotel has to offer. There are many paintings and large photographic prints on the walls, the majority by local artists. “When I was staying here back in June and July there was less structure but now there are more assigned roles,” she tells me. “We’re doing very well at the moment.”

Mel Sheppard's mural

We arrive at the first room. Some are named after the artist who designed and decorated the space whilst others have been given more abstract titles. This one is called Mel Sheppard and was the first room to be created at the hotel.

A primal explosion of colour, it is an instantly eye-catching design with abstract figures occupying the walls. There is a method to the madness though. Set against the busy decor there are simple details such as plain white bedsheets and uncomplicated accessories, a classic example of less is more. Looking out onto the Square, and beyond that the sea, the view is inspiring.

“We get lots of different people staying at the hotel,” Stephanie tells me. “Old couples, young couples, people from London who are here for weekend breaks; we get bookings all through the year from a whole range of people.”

The joy of the hotel is that no two rooms are the same. Why should they be? This is a hotel which celebrates the diversity of artists and respects what they have to say. As I am guided around the other rooms I have a thrill not knowing what is behind the next door.

I am taken into Pinky’s Vision, a lysergic wash of colour full of Yellow Submarine-era Beatles trippiness; then Panorama, with a mural of Brighton’s seafront painted across the wall in beautifully understated white and blue; Alice is a minimal, soothing space with whimsical birds painted on the walls; and Matt Sewell has a playful rural landscape bending around the room.

“We always ask people how they came to hear about the hotel,” says Stephanie. “Most people tell us that they heard about us through the internet or by word of mouth.” It is that cult-ish individuality which lends the hotel much of its charm and invests it with a feel utterly unique to Brighton.

I leave the hotel and head back into the monotone night, my head swimming with the visual experience I have just been treated to.

I am back at the hotel the next night for Suki Price’s exhibition opening. She is quick to sing the praises of the hotel: “Everyone who works there was entirely accommodating when I stayed. It was so convenient to have a studio and accommodation as well as an exhibition space all in one location.”

The success of the hotel has enabled Justin and Charlie to expand by purchasing a property in Penzance, Cornwall, with the intention of creating the next Artist Residence hotel. It is due to open in March 2011. The set up is the same, with artists designing the rooms, but Justin tells me there is a different motivation in opening a hotel in the south-west: “People usually come to Brighton for a hedonistic weekend but the Penzance hotel will offer a more relaxed experience. It’s a beautiful place but hopefully the hotel will offer people something a bit different down there.” Penzance is about to go technicolour.

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